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165 6 A BALANCE OF BEING SHIP SOCIETY The small Tasmanian town of Kettering, where I had fished so many years ago, didn’t appear to have changed much—my old skipper Alex’s house was still painted the same color blue. A small Lebanese restaurant now stood on the main street—that was new. The harbor looked pretty much the same, though fishing boats were now outnumbered by pleasure boats. I considered trying to find the harbormaster but instead just wandered. At one end of the marina, I found the boatyard, and toward the back a group of guys working on a boat in dry dock. I walked up to them. “You guys fishermen?” I asked. They all stopped working, one of them shading his eyes to peer in my direction. “Yeah,” one said. “I used to fish here.” A snort of disbelief, barely disguised derision. “Like real fishing? What’d you do?” “Lobster. Shark. I’m looking for my old skipper, wondering if he’s still alive.” At this, a man stepped out from behind the boat, his face weathered, cap on his head. He looked to be in his late seventies but may have been older. “Who was your skipper?” “Alex,” I said, “Alex Gerrard.” “Oh yeah, one of my best mates. He and I fished at the same time.” He stared at me a moment. “He’s dead now. Died maybe ten years ago.” 166 CHAPTER SIX “Oh,” I said. “Well, his health wasn’t great.” “He did pretty well, considering how much he smoked.” I laughed in agreement, as did a couple of the guys still standing around listening to the conversation. The fisherman paused again. “You fished with him for a time?” “Yeah,” I said, “a time,” realizing as I said it that I was already falling into a pattern of speech, a certain way of speaking that fit the lives of the fishermen there. The man stared at me a minute longer, then said, “I remember you. You were his deckhand, fished with him for a while. He always said you were good. I recognized you.” I found this unlikely, but then wondered if perhaps he recognized me because of my American accent and also because there had been so few women deckhands from their harbor over the years. “Alex’s wife thought I could be his cook, but he never let me in the galley,” I said. “Sure wish he had—I got pretty sick of his hot dogs and scrambled eggs.” One of the other guys barked a laugh and turned to the guy beside him. “She knew him,” he said. The guy beside him cracked a smile and said, “I always think it strange how vegetables never taste good on shore, but at sea, they’re fine.” And with that the younger fishermen turned back to their work. The older fisherman and I began walking down to the pier together. He told me about Alex, and then we sat for some time exchanging stories of fishing, people, fisheries regulations, and lobster yields. When we finally walked back up to the dry dock and nodded good-bye, a few of the other guys nodded back. I realized that they now believed me, that if I were to come back I could join them for a coffee or even a beer at the pub. They might not yet be sure if they would take me on as crew, but they would at least talk to me. The older fisherman’s confirmation of Alex’s good opinion of me showed the rest that I had proved myself. And I now remembered the older man myself. He had been a good fisherman , a respected skipper. I walked up the slope to the road with a lighter step. In the old fisherman ’s eyes, at least, I might be a girl, but I was a fisherman. I was happy to find that, even here, so far away in Australia, an echo of what nearly all the Icelandic seawomen had told me, that in Iceland at least, once A Balance of Being 167 one has proved oneself, man or woman, he or she can be a fisherman. And, man or woman, nearly all fishermen start at the bottom. THE GREENHORN’S LOT Ship society is one of strict and prescribed hierarchy: the skipper’s word is law. He or she has complete responsibility for the ship and its actions. When the system works correctly, even—or...


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MARC Record
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